Aidan Smith: 'Not a lyrical performance from Scotland but in the circumstances it was never going to be'

Scott Cummings (left) and Zander Fagerson are all smiles after victory over Samoa in Kobe
Scott Cummings (left) and Zander Fagerson are all smiles after victory over Samoa in Kobe
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It was as if we’d got the day wrong or the theme wrong or said the wrong thing during nibbles and hadn’t been able to recover our poise. Everyone else at this World Cup party seemed to be having a lot more fun than us.

Almost every other participating nation was seeing its men hurtle over the tryline and even little Uruguay had won a game. First-week teams-of-the-tournament had been compiled and naturally players in dark blue were noticeable by their absence. Postcards from Japan sent from English broadsheet observers listed all the host country's attractions and raved about the friendliness and the beer, signing off: “The rugby is not bad either, unless you are Scottish.”

We couldn’t complain. Scotland’s opening defeat to Ireland hadn’t been a drop of red wine spilt onto a cream rug, it had been a puddle. Strictly speaking, we wouldn’t be asked to leave the party if we lost to Samoa but it would feel like that. The remaining two games would be like a forlorn search of the spare room for our coats before heading for home.

The trouble yesterday, of course, was that if the venue for the metaphorical party was changed from a house to a nightclub, and if any team could be said to resemble the most formidable bouncers blocking the entrance, it was the Samoans. Could Scotland get past them?

They were without two big hitters - banned for three games for dangerous tackles against Russia - but hardly looked diminished during the Siva Tau, their haka. ITV had advice during the ad breaks about how you could continue watching at your work terminal by reducing the pictures from Kobe. I did this but Samoa still looked massive.

There was a change to the pundits’ panel from the Ireland debacle and, to make myself feel better about this one, I wanted Sir Slive Woodward, architect of England’s 2003 triumph, to reveal odd socks, holey socks, sweaty socks or garishly hideous socks when he was required to remove his shoes, but alas he didn’t embarrass himself. “Get the Samoans on the floor,” he advised. “They’re not so good there.”

Scotland hadn’t been so good in recent times at starting games, most shockingly last week, but Darcy Graham set about changing that, a thrilling run taking him into the Samoan 22. The next time he got the ball he was swatted to the ground, his bleach-blond hair re-enforcing the image of a cocky reveller whose blagging had failed. No jeans, no trainers, no lightning-fast wingers.

It was a scrappy, sclaffy, squirty encounter, the ball slipping out of many hands. When Finn Russell dropped it commentator Miles Harrison remarked: “That simply has to be the humid conditions. He doesn’t normally do that.” He doesn’t, and just then, though I suppose Harrison could almost claim he anticipated this, the fly-half provided perfect precision for Scotland’s opening tries of the tournament.

First, after both wingers had shown gutsiness and great hands to leap for high kicks, Russell popped one crossfield into the corner for Sean Maitland to dive over. Then the No 10 flipped a pass behind him to Jamie Ritchie who set up Greig Laidlaw.

Scotland’s kicking game was working well, especially when the boot was Stuart Hogg’s. The full-back boomed an epic drop-kick to encourage thoughts of a bonus point. The commentary team got excited and started salivating about Japan’s kobe beef and the sight of Laidlaw - Mr Greig as he’s known in these parts - in the buff. Scott Hastings, indicating his preference for good old Aberdeen Angus, mentioned Robert Louis Stevenson who, as every well-read Scot knows, is buried on a Samoan mountain-top.

This wasn’t a lyrical performance from Scotland but in the do-or-die circumstances it was never going to be. It was clever and controlled, save for the ball proving a bar of soap for Graham and Sam Johnson at crucial moments. A penalty try pushed the Scots further ahead; one more score would bring the bonus. It arrived the same way after Samoa’s Ed Fidow attempted a crude football slide tackle to stop the leaping Maitland.

That was a poor use of the boot but Scotland had utilised it well. Like Cinderella, the foot fitted snugly. We will stay at the party.